Luigi Giovanni Giussani was born on October 15, 1922 in Desio (a small town in Brianza, north of Milan, which was also the birthplace of future Pope Pius XI) from Beniamino Giussani, accomplished artist and engraver, and Angelina Gelosa, textile worker. His mother was a fervent Catholic; his father was sympathetic to the reasons of socialism. They also had Livia (1925), Brunilde (1929), who died the following year, Brunilde (1932), and Gaetano (1939).
Father Giussani would speak about his parents his whole life: the facts of their lives and even aspects of their characters have always been mentioned as an example of humanity and faith.
From 1928 to 1933 he attended elementary school in Desio.
On October 2, 1933 he entered the diocesan seminary of St. Peter Martyr in Seveso, where he attended the first four years of grammar school (1933-1937).
In 1937 he was transferred to the seminary of Venegono, where he spent eight years: he completed the final year of grammar school and attended three years of high school (1938-1941) and four years of Theology (1941-1945).
During high school, Giovanni Colombo’s teachings – the future archbishop of Milan – instilled in him a passion for literature and especially the poems of Giacomo Leopardi, which produced in him a wound, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said during his homily at the funeral: “Father Giussani ... from the start was touched, or better, wounded, by the desire for beauty. He was not satisfied with any beauty whatever, a banal beauty, he was looking rather for Beauty itself, infinite Beauty, and thus he found Christ, in Christ true beauty, the path of life, the true joy” (February 24, 2005).
During the years of theology under the guidance of masters such as Gaetano Corti, Carlo Colombo, Carlo Figini, his excitement and discoveries of the adolescence age found an adequate support and shape in a teaching that focused on the event of the Incarnation as fulfillment of the expectations of the human heart and the method of the encounter as the source of a reasonable faith. Father Giussani recalled that “everything is due to my loyalty of a teaching, the one received during the years of high school and diocesan seminary in Venegono, by real masters who knew how to make me absorb a strong Christian tradition.”
The seminary years are also marked by his relationship with some fellow students, in particular Enrico Manfredini – the future archbishop of Bologna – and Carlo De Ponti (who died shortly before his ordination to the priesthood), with whom he created a group called Studium Christi and a publication called “Christus,” dedicated to discovering the centrality of Christ’s person in the understanding of every subject they studied.
During the seminary years he distinguished himself for his brilliant results in his studies, documented by the excellent grades obtained at the end of each year.
On November 4, 1943, he received his baccalaureate.
On May 26, 1945, a month after the end of World War II, he was ordained priest by Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster, in the Milan Cathedral.
In the previous month of March, the rector of the seminary in Venegono had decided that Giussani should remain in the seminary to continue his studies and begin teaching. He specialized in the study of Eastern theology (especially on Slavophiles), the American Protestant theology, and a deeper understanding of the rational reasons for adherence to faith and the Church.
He obtained a diploma in theology and began teaching in the lower seminary of Seveso.
In autumn 1945, he began his service in the parish of a working class neighborhood on the outskirts of Milan, on Saturdays and Sundays. The experience in the parish lasted few months: in fact, soon he became ill from the cold winter, travelling by train, and his room at the Seminary, which was extremely cold on his return on Sunday evenings.
He started long periods of convalescence, especially in Varigotti in the Ligurian coast, at a residence operated by religious men, until 1949.
Since 1950, on Saturdays and Sundays, he started serving in a parish in downtown Milan. In Venegono he founded a group called “The fools for Christ,” in imitation of St. Paul.
From 1953, he was invited to participate in the Council of Gioventù Studentesca (Student Youth), which gathered high school students of Catholic Action in Milan, at first getting involved with the girls’ branch and then, because of his good results, also with the boys’ one.
In June 1954, he obtained a doctorate with a 70/70 grade, magna cum laude, with a thesis on “Reinhold Niebuhr’s understanding of the Christian meaning of man.”
Since the 1954 school year, he taught religion at the Berchet Classical high school in Milan, where he remained until 1967. He was driven by his desire to bring the Christian experience in the school environment in response to the questions and needs of young people living increasingly in a context of progressive hostility to faith and the Catholic Church.
Content of his lectures were the same issues that would accompany him – going deeper and deeper to their core – all along his path as an educator and human being: the religious sense and the reasonableness of faith; the hypothesis and reality of Revelation; Christ’s pedagogy in revealing himself; the nature of the Church as the continued presence of Christ in history to date. Most of all it was his person that exerted an attraction and made the Christian announcement contemporary to the young people he encountered. In 1955 he was appointed Diocesan Assistant to Gioventù Studentesca.
He published Christian responses to the problems of young people. Forced by his superiors to choose between the scientific work at the theological faculty and his commitment among young people in Milan, he opted for the latter, while still teaching at Venegono until 1957.
In 1956 he left his room at the seminary and moved to Milan, initially in Via Statuto, GS’ venue. In 1957 his father died of renal tuberculosis.
In the same year he engaged all GS in the City Mission, sponsored by Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini – the future Pope Paul VI – with a letter for Lent called On the religious sense.
A few months later, Giussani published The religious sense, the first version of a text whose subsequent editions would deepen the contents and concerns of that first small book, published by the GIAC (Gioventù Italiana di Azione Cattolica - Italian Youth of Catholic Action). While at the head of GS, he renewed its education proposal, conceiving it as a Christian community in the school. The novelty of his method particularly struck Father Maurice Cocagnac, director of the French magazine “Vie spirituelle.”
Between the late fifties and early sixties he published three small volumes which summarize the core of his proposal: G.S. Reflections on an Experience (1959), Traces of Christian Experience (1960), Notes on the Christian Method (1964). All of them were published with the imprimatur of the Church.
These were the years of the spread of GS in the diocese of Milan, and throughout Italy, and of the first missionary attempts, starting with Brazil – the first example of young lay people leaving for the mission.
In 1960 and 1961 he made two trips to Brazil, harbingers of the departure of the first giessini, at the invitation of Bishop Aristide Pirovano, Bishop of Macapà, and of Marcello Candia, an enterpreneur.
Since the academic year 1964–1965 he taught Introduction to Theology at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, a chair he held until 1990, when he left the teaching on grounds of age. In 1964, the first nucleus of what was to become the reality of Memores Domini (people who make a choice of dedication to God in virginity, following the evangelical counsels) began to gather around Father Giussani.
The spread of GS caused misunderstandings and difficulties in the diocese of Milan, especially by those responsible for FUCI (Italian Federation of Catholic University students).
In 1965, to coincide with this situation, and after a few months spent in the United States, he stopped leading GS. In GS the first signs of a crisis started to show, a crisis that culminated in 1968, when many left GS to join the Student Movement, the Marxist reality that was at the head of the protest in Italian universities and schools.
In 1968, during a series of meetings with Memores, with the priests, and with adults still linked with him through the Charles Peguy Cultural Center of Milan, he laid the groundwork for a resumption of the experience of what became the original Movement of CL.
In 1969, for the first time the name “Communion and Liberation” appeared in a manifesto written by some students of the University of Milan, who understood and resumed the initial idea from which GS was born. Since the early seventies he was directly involved with a group of students at the Catholic University. He published American Protestant Theology. Historical Profile, by the publisher of the Seminary of Venegono. He published Reinhold Niebuhr, by Jaca Book.
On Palm Sunday of 1975, he took part with the whole Movement to a meeting promoted by Pope Paul VI, who told him, in a private meeting at the end of the liturgical celebration in St. Peter’s Square: “This is the right way. Go ahead.” In a series of meetings that took place throughout 1976, he signaled a difficult situation arisen in the life of CL: “An event to be created, not an organization to be invented.”
Father Giussani’s concerns found their culmination in the Equipe of the responsibles of the CL university students in September 1976, which marked a turning point in the history of the Movement. Since that time, for at least twenty years, the CLU Equipes will be the reference point for the entire life of the Movement.
In 1977, he published The Risk of Education, where he put to good use his reflections on twenty years of experience as an educator, first in high school and then in the university. It would become one of the most widely read books by Father Giussani, republished several times.
The election of John Paul II marks the deepening of a relationship with Wojtila that had begun in 1971 in Poland.
For some years Giussani visited the Pope with groups of young people on the occasion of the Pope’s “complemese” [the monthly anniversary of his birthday] at the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo.
In 1981, together with the Polish Father Blachnicki, founder of the Light and Life Movement, he organized in Rome the first international meeting of the movements. On February 11, 1982, the Pontifical Council for the Laity officially recognized the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, which Giussani presided.
He was present at the Meeting for Friendship amongst Peoples (the cultural event of international significance that takes place every year in Rimini at the end of August), during the visit of Pope John Paul II.
In 1983 Father Giussani was named Monsignor by Pope John Paul II, with the title of Honorary Prelate of His Holiness. He spoke at the Meeting in Rimini.
In 1984 his mother died. In the same year he led the pilgrimage to Rome of Communion and Liberation, on the occasion of the audience with John Paul II for the thirtieth anniversary of the Movement.
In 1985 he spoke at the Meeting in Rimini. In 1986 The Religious Sense, the first volume of the PerCorso was published by Jaca Book. In 1987 he was appointed Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity. He attended the Synod of Bishops on the laity as a member appointed by the Pope and spoke with a contribution entitled From Baptism, a new creature, now published in L’avvenimento cristiano. Uomo Chiesa Mondo [The Christian event. Man Church World].
He spoke at the Assembly of the Christian Democratic Party in Lombardy in Assago (Milan).
The Mayor of Nagoya, Japan, invited him to lecture. On that occasion he met one of the leaders of the Japanese Buddhism, Professor Shodo Habukawa, with whom he formed a deep friendship.
In 1988, the Memores Domini were approved by the Holy See, which recognized their juridical status as Private Universal Ecclesial Association.
At the Origin of the Christian Claim, the second volume of the PerCorso was published by Jaca Book.
In 1990, the first volume of Why the Church, third volume of the PerCorso was published by Jaca Book. The second volume was published in 1992.
In October 1992, he led the pilgrimage to Lourdes for the tenth anniversary of the Fraternity of CL.
In 1993, for the first time Rizzoli published one of his books, The Christian event. Man Church World. Also at Rizzoli he directed the “Books of the Christian Spirit” series. From this time his books were published or republished, in Italy, especially by Rizzoli, but also by San Paolo, Marietti, Sei, and Piemme; translated into several languages, they were disseminated throughout the world.
In 1994, he was named Consultor of the Congregation for the Clergy. Is it Possible to Live this Way? An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence was published by Rizzoli.
In 1995, he participated in a meeting with Jean Guitton at the Complutense University of Madrid.
He was awarded the International Catholic Culture Prize of Bassano del Grappa.
He began to publish articles on Italian newspapers, from “Il Giornale” to “La Repubblica” to the “Corriere della Sera.”
In 1996 he published a long article on “L’Osservatore Romano,” entitled The value of some words that mark the Christian journey. From 1997 he directed the musical series “Spirto Gentil,” issued in collaboration with Deutsche Grammophon and other record companies.
On December 11, the English edition of The Religious Sense was presented at the UN in New York. At the invitation of the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Renato Martino, a Buddhist monk (Shinghen Takagi), a Jewish musician (David Horowitz), and a Catholic theologian (David Schindler) spoke at the presentation. In front of such an event, Giussani spoke of an unforeseeable event and a “new beginning” in the life of the whole Movement. In the following years and even after his death, hundreds of meetings for the presentation of his books took place in Italy and around the world.
On May 30, 1998, he gave a personal testimony during the meeting in St. Peter’s Square of Pope John Paul II with the ecclesial movements and new communities.
In the same year, with Stefano Alberto and Javier Prades, he published Generating Traces in the History of the World. New Traces of Christian Experience, by Rizzoli.
In 1999, the English edition of At the Origin of the Christian Claim was presented at the UN in New York.
In 2001, on the occasion of the tenth edition of the “Corona Turrita,” presented by the city of Desio in recognition of its illustrious citizens, Father Luigi Giussani received the award.
On February 11, 2002, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Pontifical Recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, John Paul II wrote a long autograph letter to Father Giussani, in which he wrote, among other things: “The Movement, therefore, has chosen and chooses to indicate not a road, but the road toward a solution to this existential drama. ... Christianity, even before being a sum of doctrines or a rule for salvation, is thus the ‘event’ of an encounter.”
On October 15, in celebration of Father Giussani’s eightieth birthday, the Pope sent him an autograph letter.
In the same year, the President of the Province of Milan, Ombretta Colli, conferred on Father Giussani the Isimbardi Gold Medal Award for Gratitude.
In 2003, at Georgetown University in Washington (USA), an international conference on Giussani’s The Risk of Education took place; it started with the reading of his message to the participants.
He received the Macchi Award, given by the Association of Catholic School Parents to distinguished figures in the field of education.
In January 2004, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Communion and Liberation, he sent a letter to John Paul II, who replied on February 22. During the fifth Celebration of the Statute of the Lombardy Region, Luigi Giussani was awarded the Longobard Seal, assigned to citizens distinguished for particular social merits.
On October 16, on the occasion of the pilgrimage to Loreto for the fiftieth anniversary of CL, he wrote his last letter to the whole Movement.
On February 22, 2005, he died in his dwelling in Milan.
The funeral was celebrated in the Cathedral of Milan by the then Cardinal and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger, as the personal representative of Pope John Paul II; he also gave the funeral homily. Buried in the Famedio section of Milan’s “Monumental” Cemetery, reserved for illustrious citizens of the city, in 2008 he was moved into a newly built chapel in the same cemetery. From that time on, the tomb has been visited by pilgrims from Italy and the world.
On February 22, 2012, at the end of the Mass celebrated in Milan Cathedral on the 30th anniversary of the Pontifical recognition of the Fraternity of CL, and the 7th anniversary of Fr. Giussani’s death, Fr. Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of CL, announced that he had presented the request for opening the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Fr. Giussani. The request was accepted by the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola.